Fresh off its long-awaited first win of the season, Notre Dame will hit the road to face North Carolina on Saturday at Chapel Hill.
After falling in the season opener at Ohio State, then absorbing a stunning home loss to Marshall, the Fighting Irish (1-2) rebounded last week with a 24-17 win over Cal.
Key in Notre Dame’s first win of the season was the pressure its defense was able to apply on Cal quarterback Jack Plummer. The Irish racked up six sacks and five other QB hits. The pressure didn’t result in any turnovers, but Notre Dame kept Cal to just 4 of 15 on third down conversions and 1 of 3 on fourth down.
“Overall, I’ve been pleased, but is there a lot to improve at? Absolutely,” first-year Irish coach Marcus Freeman said. “That goes from every level of defense.”
Irish quarterback Drew Pyne also was sharp against Cal, completing 17 of 23 passes for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Backfield mates Audric Estime and Chris Tyree combined for 140 rushing yards on 35 carries, an average of 4 yards per-carry.
North Carolina is 3-0 to start the season but has historically struggled against the Irish. Notre Dame is 20-2 all-time in the series and is currently riding a four-game winning streak against the Tar Heels going back to 2014.
UNC has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, averaging 51.3 points per-game — a mark that is tops in the ACC and fourth-best in FBS. The leader of that attack is redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye, who has thrown for 930 yards and 11 touchdowns, tied for the FBS lead.
The Tar Heels’ problem has been their defense. The unit, coached by first-year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik — a former national championship-winning head coach at Auburn — has given up 37.7 points per game, which ranks 119th out of 131 FBS teams.
“Defensively, we’ve got to do a better job of stopping them on first down,” Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown said. “We’re still not doing as well on early downs, and that’s where you force your turnovers. … I’m proud of the progress we’re making on defense, but we still have a lot of work that we can do.”
UNC defensive back Don Chapman is expected to play against Notre Dame, Brown said. Chapman missed UNC’s previous two games after being arrested on Sept. 8 and charged with domestic criminal trespassing, assault, and misdemeanor battery of an unborn child.